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Lawmakers losing sight of conservative values

BY BRIAN REECE, M.D.

As a physician and lifelong Republican, I hold dear two values: my patients always come first, and the government doesn’t belong in my practice. For decades, I and many of my Texas physician colleagues have counted on conservative lawmakers to protect our businesses from government intrusion, including rate setting, and needless regulation and bureaucracy. Private markets, free enterprise, and competition are fundamental for thriving physician practices and for robust access to care and patient choice.

What’s happening at the Texas Capitol right now is a deviation from that legacy.

State lawmakers are considering a pair of bills (Senate Bill 207 and House Bill 1617) that will eviscerate current state law, completely upending the civil litigation process for injured Texans, burdening physicians with invasive discovery and unfounded challenges to their medical judgment, and making it much more difficult for injured Texans to get essential healing and restorative care. What makes no sense is that both bills are authored by long-time conservative leaders.

The bills are complex. But at their core they give insurance companies more power to dispute a physician’s judgment of medical necessity and to challenge his or her charges for care and treatment. They unfairly put physicians on the defensive, requiring them to justify their expertise and decision-making when we have done nothing but open our practices to those who are injured to help them heal, alleviate their pain, and restore their function. They require physicians to spend more time in court than in the operating room or the exam room, where they are most needed.

The version being considered by the Texas House also holds physicians hostage by exempting them from the abusive discovery of private information and baseless challenges to their medical judgment and charges only if they accept payments equal to a percentage of reimbursement set by the workers’ compensation program. These rates are set by the government and do not cover health care professionals’ costs for actually providing care.

These are not conservative values.

Should the bills become law, insurance companies will score yet another victory over physicians and our patients and put Texas on a path to a health care system that artificially determines physician payment amounts, rather than letting the market decide. More physicians will close their practices or leave the state altogether because of the time and costs associated with defending their medical judgment from the opinion of insurance companies and a race to the bottom for physician payment. Texas will become the last place specialists like myself and other orthopedists, surgeons, neurologists, and anesthesiologists/pain management experts will choose to practice.

We all lose if these misguided bills become law. Every physician in Texas should take note of the strange turn of events in Austin and call their lawmakers and remind them of the conservative values that make Texas the best state in which to practice medicine.

Brian Reece, M. D. is an orthopedic specialist and owner of the West Texas Spine Institute in Odessa.

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